When hunger cues aren’t loud enough

Recovery is a never ending challenge of listening to your body, and boy have I had that challenge this past week.

I ended up with a sinus infection about 10 days ago, and something that can always be tough is when a sickness ends up messing with your appetite. For me, I realized that I was missing (and maybe not even getting) some hunger cues, and it was hard to be mindful of fueling my body.

I had a few days where I was super busy and my eating schedule (I’ll explain more in a little bit) fell out of whack. Being sick can definitely do this to people, and unfortunately, for those of us in recovery, this is the perfect time for our EDs to sneak in and take advantage of us.

For me, I’ve found that it’s important to keep myself on somewhat of a schedule when it comes to meals. You’ll often hear people saying that we shouldn’t eat by a schedule, and we should just listen to our bodies and eat according to our needs. While I do not disagree with this at all, for people in recovery, this line can get messy. If we are capable of intuitive eating, then that should be our first choice. However, sometimes things get thrown off track (thanks, sinus infection!) and we need to be a little extra compassionate.

Point in case: when you get sick and your appetite is messed up, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat. Here’s what I try to do in order to balance things out when my hunger cues disappear due to sickness: eat at three meals a day, on a schedule.

Breakfast: at some point after waking up and before really starting my day.

Lunch: At some point in the middle of my day.

Dinner: Some point at the end of my work/school day.

Snacks are normally interspersed throughout, especially before bed!

When I say schedule, I don’t mean “we should all eat breakfast around 8am.” Life’s not that simple. Sometimes you sleep late, sometimes it takes you a little longer to get hungry, sometimes we eat on the way to a doctor’s appointment.

OBVIOUSLY, as you all know, I’m a huge fan of snacks and so I find myself munching throughout the day to keep myself fueled. In all honesty, most days I can’t make it from one meal to the next without a snack in between. But sometimes, if I’m not hungry, I won’t have a snack because my body doesn’t need it.

I’m lucky to be at a stage in my recovery where I don’t need to follow a meal plan and I am capable of relying solely on my body and my knowledge of nutrition to make these decisions for myself.

When different things happen (like sickness or a change in medication) that affects our appetites, this can turn up the volume of our ED thoughts. Should I be eating if I’m not hungry? Should I be enjoying dessert if I’m not hungry?

The answer is yes. Food is important even when you’re not hungry, especially for people in recovery.


I like to think of it this way: not feeding your body because you don’t get strong hunger cues is like not filling up your car with gas just because the low fuel light doesn’t come on. You still know that your car will need gas soon, you still know that just by driving your car, you’re using gas, and if you want to keep driving it, you need gas.

The needle on the gas gauge is your *knowledge* that you’re getting low on fuel, not the physical hunger cue. I know that by dinner time my “food gauge” is low because it’s been X hours since I last ate, just like I know I will need gas soon because it’s been X days since filling up. Even if my low fuel light doesn’t come on, I’m going to eat because I know I’m low.

And I think the key in this whole scenario is this: as people in recovery, when our appetites get thrown out of whack or our eating schedules shift for some reason, it’s a perfect opportunity for our EDs to speak up and convince us that this is a good thing. I’d being lying if I said that I didn’t hear those thoughts this past week while I was sick, but the difference is this: I’m smart enough and strong enough now to know that if I start skipping meals when I’m sick, not only will I not get healthy as quickly, but I’m practically inviting my ED in for a cup of tea. No freaking thanks.

Thinking about this makes me want to put a big disclaimer on everything I see and write about intuitive eating. Intuitive eating can come close to the blurry line of skipping meals if you think that no hunger cues = no food.

Some hunger cues might mean *less* food, but we will always need food. No matter what. And on top of that, it’s important for us to all realize that because we are in recovery, this inherently means that we can’t always trust our hunger cues. I know for me, if I get busy, or get sick, or distracted, my hunger cues tend to fly out the window.

It’s up to us to check in with our bodies throughout the day and see how they’re doing, because our bodies are used to being ignored.

My hunger cues have gotten a million times better over the last four years in recovery, and especially over the last few years since really devoting myself to intuitive eating, but it would be silly of me to think that my battle is over: I always need to check in with my body, especially when I’m sick. And I always need to eat three meals a day, even if I’m not super hungry.

I know my body will thank me later.


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